Monday, September 21, 2009

Tune Out The Tony Romo Haters

Lets imagine for a moment an alternate universe. In this universe the Dallas Cowboys defense stops the New York Giants offense on either 3rd and 6 or 3rd and 4 on the final drive of the game to preserve a 31-30 point win over the New York Giants. What do you think the headlines would be today?

Well consider this. On the previous drive the Cowboys got the ball with seven minutes and change left on their own 30 yard line down 6 points. And they proceeded to go 70 yards down the field and score a touchdown.

Now to be sure the bulk of the yardage was eaten up by the running backs, specifically Marion Barber. And the culmination of the drive was a Felix Jones run in to the endzone, not a pass from Tony Romo. However Romo did hit Witten on a crucial 3rd and 8 for the first down plus about 4 yards.

So I ask again, what would the headlines be had he defense held on to the one point lead?

I imagine what the headlines WOULDN'T say is what they are saying today. Namely that Romo is basically a loser who "can't win the big one". Now I have problems with Tony Romo of my own, and by no means did he play a great game, but to use this loss as some kind of litmus test on his ability to win or lose is ridiculous if you ask me.

Here is what you will hear all day long. That Romo has to protect the ball and that he can't turn it over 3 times. Now being a defensive minded guy I largely agree with that sentiment. I think which ever team wins the turn over ratio generally will win the game. And for that reason a major emphasis has to be placed on not carelessly turning it over.

But here is the truth, while Tony Romo threw three interceptions last night, he really only made one bad decision. The ball he threw up for Sam Hurd in the fourth quarter that was picked off by the Giants' safety Kenny Phillips was definitely a poor decision. Even if he didn't see the safety (which I don't believe for a second) the underneath defender already had him played relatively well. Not only that but there appeared to be receivers running underneath routes who were open and available. What made it even worse is that at the time the Cowboys were nursing a 4 point lead. It wasn't the kind of play that we "needed" at the time. And of course the fact that the Giants ended up driving it all the way down to score a touchdown just pours salt in the wound.

As for the other two picks, Romo made the right read both times but ended up making physical errors. On the pick six in the first half he threw to Roy Williams on an in route but the ball sailed on him and went right into the hands of Giants cornerback, Bruce Johnson. But it still was the correct place to go with the ball because Williams was open. On the fourth quarter pick, I mean seriously that was just a freak incident. You could watch football for years and years and never see a play like that happen. Again in that situation he went to the right guy, Jason Witten, who had the favorable match up but he threw the ball just behind him and he couldn't hang on to it. The ball hits his foot and goes right up into Kenny Phillips' hands who was trailing him on the play. It was such a freak play that even the refs initially got it wrong and had to go to a replay.

But the reality is, if anything, these two plays illustrate the fact that Tony Romo IS a winner. You want to know what happened after he threw the pick six right before the end of the first half? He didn't sulk, he didn't go in the tank. Instead he lead the team all the way down with 40 seconds left from his own 35 to the Giants 45 for a field goal. What did he do after the freak interception off of Witten's foot? He led the touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that I alluded to earlier.

Does that sound like a loser to you? Does that sound like a guy who "can't win a big game"?

Now in full disclosure I have been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys practically my whole life. But this has nothing to do with being a homer for the team. You want to hear me criticize them? Ask me about the sorry exhibition of tackling from our secondary last night. Ask me about Felix Jones fumbling a kickoff return when Miles Austin should be the return man anyway. Ask me about the fact that we only had one guy last night getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Ask me about the blitzes that we kept calling that had no shot of getting pressure on the quarterback. Ask me about why our corners kept allowing the Giants receivers inside versus the blitz. And last but not least, ask me about Bobby Carpenter because I have a lot to say about that weak link.

But when it comes to football I watch from a different lens from most. I go by the available evidence to form my opinions, not some hack talking non stop on the Tee Vee. And having played and coached the game I see things that the average fan doesn't. That's why I decided to watch the game again this morning, so that I wouldn't get caught up in emotion in my analysis and instead I would rely on what the tape showed me. What you are reading in this post is about reality versus the perception you will hear all day on places like ESPN.

Fact: The Cowboys scored 31 points last night against a very good New York Giant defense.

Fact: Of those 31 points Romo accounted directly for 14 of them with a passing and a rushing touchdown.

Fact: He gave the Cowboys the lead in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter.

Again he did not have a great game, but he for damn sure wasn't Jake Delhomme either. The pundits today who are throwing him under the bus are just repeating what is generated in Cowboys hating echo chamber.

In fact watching the game again this morning I find more problems with the Cowboys defense than their offense. Turnovers aside they still allowed Eli Manning to throw for over 300 yards and the Giants had two receivers with 10 catches and over 130 yards a piece. For the second week in a row the Cowboys also didn't get any sacks. I am beginning to believe that the loss of Greg Ellis, who just so happened to have two sacks yesterday for the Raiders, was bigger than most people imagined.

All in all though I don't see a reason to panic at all. Aside from Marion Barber's injury just about everything else is correctable. And just to reiterate, the Giants aren't exactly the Lions anyway. And even with all of the mistakes we made last night on both offense and defense there was still a lot to like. The offensive line didn't give up a sack and our backs racked up 251 yards on the ground. Our defense held the much feared Giants running game to less than 100 net yards on the ground. And as many yards as our defense gave up to Manning in the air, we held them to four field goals instead of giving up touchdowns when they got close to the red area.

So while there are valid things to complain about with last night's game, saying Tony Romo is a loser isn't one of them, and the sky is definitely not falling.

See you next week for the Carolina Panthers game.